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2016 Digital Marketing Wrap-up

December 29, 2016

As the year comes to an end, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting things in the world of web sites and digital marketing from 2016 and into 2017.

Google Ranking Factors: Bro, do you even RankBrain…?

How Google ranks websites has always been somewhat of a mystery and can sometimes feel like walking down a path of moving tiles. If you work in the world of digital you already know that everyone wants to rank number 1 in Google. Your clients want to be number one, your blogger friends want to be number one and for 10 easy installments of $99.95, you too can rank number 1… (hint: if someone tells you ‘keywords’ it’s probably best to not work with them).


For days (read: years), Google has said there are around 200 different factors they use that determine how pages are ranked in the search results. I repeat— TWO HUNDRED different factors! This is not news but it is important to realize there are no silver bullets when it comes to ranking. While Google never really reveals the secret sauce behind these factors, they do drop hints and in 2016 they dropped a pretty big one when they said that RankBrain was the third most important ranking factor (behind links and content).

What the hell is RankBrain?

RankBrain is much like the other things described by Google when it comes to search — super complicated, smart and confusing. In short, it is a machine learning system that contributes information to the larger search algorithm when sorting through billions of pages to determine the order of search results. Sort of like if you had a smart friend that could whisper ideas in your head during final jeopardy. I’d try to describe it more but Search Engine Land does an awesome job describing RankBrain in this post. If you are a fan of staying out of the weeds on this nerdy search stuff, the big takeaway here is that RankBrain is now third most important and because it uses machine learning/AI it’s kind of big deal. If you are trying to rank websites, you should at least tune in.

Just remember: practicing good SEO is like brushing your teeth — do it regularly, do it the right way, and don’t lie about it.

HTTPS is a really big deal now. Like, practically required.

In 2016 Google mentioned it would favor sites that used a HTTPS but in 2017 there is even more buzz about it being required for all sites that use a login. The writing is pretty much on the wall that this will soon be a necessary thing for most sites. Better off just biting the bullet and spending some cash on an SSL cert now and be done with it.

Your kids don’t even know what ‘Desktop’ means, they live Mobile.


  • In 2014, mobile use surpassed desktop use
  • In 2015, more searches were on mobile than desktop in the U.S. and Mobile-Only users surpassed Desktop-Only users
  • In 2016, Mobile audiences for the top 100 web properties surpassed Desktop
  • In 2017, Google is going to launch a Mobile-Only Index

Summary : Web Marketing & Search changes to ponder


Mobile Only Search Index — Google announcing a Mobile only index is pretty much the elephant taking up all the space in the room. This is a huge deal and fundamentally changes the search landscape.

HTTPS — essentially if your website has a login, you will almost surely need this (think WordPress, basic logins etc. in addition to eCommerce)

Voice Search — This is going be a big one and digital native users already using this consistently. Check out this sweet list of 2017 predictions from Gartner for some real good predictions here but our favorite is:“by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen” (some strange brew for designers to contemplate here)

If you made it this far — thanks for reading!

If you’re gearing up for the new year and wondering how you can integrate these trends into your business strategy, Van West Media can help. Let’s Get Started.


About the Author: Travis Melvin is a digital marketing professional based in New York City. He currently works with VWM on web content strategy and related marketing initiatives.